I got one of those seed starter kits (plastic trays, clear dome) that i
am toying with to get a jump start on gardening early for vegtables.
how do i figure out when to start the seeds? I'm sorta using square
foot gardening along with a mix of other techniques to help stretch my
growing period and cut down on effort. I am not sure if i can even
estimate how soon I can plant outside, and would like to know how to
boy that came out way too confusing, I should force myself to stop
posting after midnight :)
I've been doing that for years. I use the last frost date for my area
(USDA Zone 9b) as the potential date to plant in the ground. I do it
that way as long as the soil temperature is at least 70F. That may be
the critical point for you if you live in a cold area. Shoot for the
soil temperature of 70F as your plant out date and then start your
seedlings far enough ahead of that time to have them up and healthy.
Any idea where you live? Your question can't be answered without that
It would also be a good idea to get yourself a copy of "Crockett's Victory
Garden". It'll have to be a used copy. Try www.powells.com, a reliable
source for used books. This book's chapters are arranged by month, with a
list of garden tasks for each month (plant this, transplant that, etc). It's
based on Boston's climate, but you can adjust the timing based on your
location. All the advice in the book is reliable, except for the author's
use of chemicals, which was excessive.
Hi! I'm a garden enthusiast as well. I start my seeds indoors about 5 weeks
before our last frost date here in central TN which is around 4/15. Now we
have a small heated hobby greenhouse so I may start some of them even
earlier so they're bigger by mid to late April. This includes flowers as
well since I have several flower beds.
Try http://www.victoryseeds.com/frost /
I've not used it so I don't know how accurate it is, but if you do an
online search for frost dates you will find a bunch of similar sites. I
looked up my area and they said the last frost is typically May 18; in
my planning, I have been using Memorial day, just to be safe, and, when
I worked, I got the day off.
Some seeds don't benefit by starting indoors. Many have different
maturity periods, so it is likely that you will not be starting all your
seeds on the same date.
I don't think it's accurate at all. They state the last frost date of
Chicago (Zone 5b) as 4/21 and AFAIK, our last frost date is 5/15. They
have cities downstate Illinois with later dates which makes no sense so
I have no idea where they came up with those dates. This is just a
single sample however, other states could be more accurate. Even at
5/15, last year and the year before we had a frosts up to 5/18.
Planting outside during that time period is dicey and you have to keep
very close track of the weather forecasts for overnight low
temperatures. I use this site which has been very accurate in
predicting overnight lows:
As for the seeds, I find it far easier and cheaper to just buy the
seedlings from the nurseries in the Spring. They do this on a massive
scale and can get the seedlings going for a lot less (and better
quality) than you can with a small set up. That said, last year I had
big problems with mislabeled habenero peppers which meant instead of
growing habeneros I grew a bunch of chili peppers that I didn't want.
This year I'm concentrating the non-tomato part of my veggie garden on
various hot hot peppers. Most nurseries around me do not carry any of
the really really hot ones or any of the strange varieties so I have to
grow them from seed. I've been told that the seeds for hot peppers must
be started around mid January for May planting so I'm buying them now.
I'm also expanding my tomato patch from 8 to 12 plants this year so I
might try starting an heirloom (probably Brandywine) from seed as a
lark. When you can get your average decent tomato seedling for 4/$1.20
at the store in the Spring it kind of doesn't make sense to bother with
seeds though. Nurseries around me usually carry lots and lots of
different heirloom tomato seedlings for decent prices too. In fact, the
cost of slow release fertilizer and soil rejuvenators for each container
far exceeds the cost of any seedling sold at the nurseries.
The data seems accurate for my locale, bearing in mind that they are
talking about the average date, not the date beyond which a frost never
Many conditions, including but not limited to proximity to a large body
of water, affects climate. If you really want an idea where they came
up with those dates, read the paragraph you apparently missed citing
I'm not pushing this particular site. I just posted it to give the OP
an idea of what is available and where to find more sites. Useful
information, I would hope, especially when we have no idea where the OP
This is just a
At first glance, the site you cite does not appear to contain the
information the OP was looking for. I found five day forecasts, but
what use are even the most accurate of those for starting seeds indoors,
or for that matter, in planting seedlings, when a killer frost could be
lurking on the sixth day?
As I said, I plant on a day that I have learned over the years is
generally safe. If we have a late frost, I raid my wife's supply of
Mason jars and put them over my most valued seedlings, but you have to
be alert to remove them as soon as the frost is gone, lest your
seedlings get cooked in this miniature greenhouse.
My experience is that the nursery seedlings look better than the ones I
do at home, but after a few weeks in the garden there is no difference.
Around here the nursery's seedlings are not inexpensive, and their
selection is very limited. I like being able to select the variety and
ordering seeds is the best solution for me. I don't use slow release
fertilizer or soil rejuvenators; I microwave a bit of soil from my
garden and use that, with quite good results.
I would encourage you to find some start date that makes sense - maybe
even asking other gardeners when they usually set plants out in your
area - and go for it.
Not everyone agrees with this, but I think there's nothing like
starting your own seeds. Not only is it really gratifying to watch,
but you can comb the catalogs and get the varieties you really want to
try. Plus, it's fun to have stuff that no one else in the neighborhood
has. Remember, most of them are buying plants at the same places, so
whatever is projected to be a big seller is what they will have.
Seed starting is pretty easy and one thing you will know about your
plants is that they don't have any soil-borne diseases or are full of
whitefly, etc. This is really helpful if you plan to eat them. :)
Charlotte in the NE
I know you didn't ask for how but when; I think the two kinda go hand
in hand. As usual on the internet, YMMV:
As previously noted, you need to know your last frost date - for
frost-sensitive types (plants, not people). Cold-hardy plants can
tolerate some cold temps, esp. if you provide some protection, cover
before temps get too cold. I had one tomato plant survive a hard
spring frost by putting a hot-water cozy under cover with it (boiling
hot water, couple layers of protection & plastic bag over all). The
plant had a touch of frost damage; note I don't recommend this for
normal use, I just wondered what would happen and know I (& you) know.
Maybe a few degrees colder would've wiped the plant out. The water
bottle set out at 7-8 PM, was cold in the AM :) One garden-way book I
used to have said if you don't lose some plants on both ends of the
growing season, you aren't starting soon enough and you're quitting too
On to your question; given any plant, there is a number of days to
harvest, usually this date is from TP or for direct sowing. Recommended
start date for leeks and onions from seed is in February! Naturally
you will need some good light; if you don't have a dirt-tolerant
spouse, good southern exposure or have pets, I would recommend a small
area kitted out w/flourescent lighting (rel. cheap, minimal fire hazard
- don't pour water over them). These lights need to be CLOSE to your
seedlings, and you'll want to rotate the seedlings and swap
middle-to-end plants every few days.
Use GOOD potting soil. If you can get it, use a professional mix, not
the stuff sold by the box stores. Go to a nursery. It's a little
more, but worth it. One thing a seedling doesn't need is
fertilizer-fortified potting soil. A seed contains all the fuel a
seedling needs to get started, after that it will need water and light.
In general, I find that it's important to figure on transplanting
seedlings before they get pot-bound. So you don't want to start too
early :) And you'll need some hardening-off days; set tender plants
outside for a short time, not too much wind, protected from direct sun,
lengthen time gradually. Some plants are more sensitive than others,
and wind is as damaging as pests (I have a convenient stone ledge -
except when there;s wind!)
You can (generally) always pot a plant on when it starts to outgrow
your pots; usually seedlings get stronger after this. Some plants that
are not recommended for TP do just fine for me; I have a tough time
using those bio-degradeable peat pots, which every year I break down
and try, really don't do well - no comparison. There must be a market
for these things though, victory garden swears by them. You will of
course need to take care when handling tender seedlings. Handle by a
leaf, not the stem - you might accidentally crush the stem. The
downside to potting on? You'll need more space, more light and you'll
have to balance between a growing plant and the weather. You can
retard growth SOME by withholding fertilizer, water but it gets tricky
to do w/out stressing the seedling too much. If there's still snow
outside, then you'll know you started too soon - I'd start over :)
The peat pots allow too much evaporation, so the soil dries out quickly,
especially when you move the plants outside to harden off before
transplanting. I've had good luck using 6-packs, and I can buy them very
cheaply at a local garden center (not as part of a "kit" with tray, cover,
badly written instructions). The plastic is soft enough that I can push on
the bottom of each cell to get the plant & its soil to slide out easily. If
the soil's not pressed into the pots quite right, it'll fall apart, which
isn't good, but a bit of experimentation will determine how much soil
compression is just right.
Normally, I wouldn't start planting things in January, but this winter's
been bizarre, so I'm going to risk 50 cents worth of broccoli seeds. If I'm
wrong, oh well.
Note that this gives the AVERAGE last frost date, meaning that half the
years there WILL be a frost after that date.
What you want is the FROST FREE date. Your best bet for accurate info on
this for your location is to fall back on the old technology, pick up the
phone, and call your local Extension office.
The Garden Gate http://garden-gate.prairienet.org
=================================================================="If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
^and cats -- Cicero
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One benefit from growing your own, is that you can start them when ever you
want to, within reason. You can buy the plants already started, but it
seems that the fall crops are never available in a nursery. They usually
plan for a large sale during spring, but never consider the fact that
someone might want to plant fall cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts Etc.
that should be put into the ground in June or July for the fall harvest.
Decide what your requirements are and go from there.
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